Within the Education Equity team at Google, three women are changing the education landscape for the next generation of black and Latinx engineers—and I’m lucky enough to call them coworkers.
April Alvarez, Peta-Gay Clarke and Bianca Okafor are part of my team at Google that’s leading two education initiatives: Code Next is a free computer science education program for black and Latinx high schoolers, and Tech Exchange is a semester-long program for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) where computer science majors immerse themselves in coding instruction on the Google campus in Mountain View. Both of these programs are part of Code with Google, our commitment focused on ensuring every student has access to the collaborative, coding, and technical skills that unlock opportunities in the classroom and beyond—no matter what their future goals may be.
In the latest installment of The She Word, and in celebration of Computer Science Education Week (Dec. 9-15), we sat down with the ladies to discuss mentorship, the lack of diversity in tech and advice for young women of color looking to get into the coding space.
Why are the programs you work on described as “Education Equity"?
April:When we design and develop programs for the Education Equity team, we start by acknowledging that advantages and barriers to success in education do exist, and that not all students have the same starting point. For example, when designing the Code Next program, we realized that access is a big barrier for Black and Latinx students interested in computer science, so we designed lab spaces that are proximate to where students live; we brought the labs to them.
For Code Next and Tech Exchange, we focus on helping students cultivate their tech “social capital” (meaning their networks of connections) by bringing in folks who work in the tech industry and connecting them to one of our students through our mentorship programs.
What are Code Next and Tech Exchange doing differently compared to other coding education programs in the space?
Bianca: From the beginning, Tech Exchange has focused on providing an immersive and enriching experience both inside and outside of the classroom. The program takes a thoughtful approach to engaging the HBCU/HSI students with social and career development programming to further bolster and add meaning to their experience on Google's campus. We make an effort to expose students to a variety of community groups and product teams to broaden their perspective on opportunities available to them in the tech industry.
Peta:With Code Next, we work with students from 9th-12th grade in a physical lab close to their homes and communities. These labs were intentionally built by Google and architects experienced in designing inspirational learning spaces. Our goal is to expose youth traditionally underrepresented in the tech industry to the wonderful world of computer science and give them the agency to immerse themselves into the areas that most interest them. We met our first cohort of students when they were in middle school, and they’re now applying to college!
When you look at a Code Next student’s resume, you will see the impact of our program—they take computer science classes at a Code Next Lab, they work with a Google mentor, and they spend the last few years of high school immersing themselves in emerging tech like app development, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and more.
You all came from different industries to work in this space—April from K-12 schools, Peta from government and higher education, Bianca from her earlier years in Google’s R&D departments. How does that affect the work that you do together?
April: First, it makes for a fun and interesting team to be a part of! Second, it allows us to make design decisions from multiple angles and perspectives. When I’m making decisions, I’m thinking about learning outcomes, the student experience and the educational pathway. Bianca and Peta do this as well, but they’re also able to chime in and share industry knowledge and experience, and then work this into the design of the program.
The tech space is working to improve diversity among its ranks. In your experience, what is one thing that could address that situation?
Peta: There isn’t one thing that will address the issue of underrepresentation in the tech industry. Instead, there are a number of ways industry leaders can have impact. For starters, we can increase focus on collaboration and partnership within and across industries. We can improve education and understanding of how to foster a diverse and inclusive culture and more importantly, what it looks like in practice. We can broaden our understanding of the internal and external systems that lead to heterogeneous workforces, and better communicate the interventions needed for changing or dismantling those systems, to produce more equitable outcomes. Lastly, we can increase investment in finding and supporting the next generation of talent from underrepresented communities.
It’s Computer Science Education Week! What’s one recommendation you have for young women of color who are interested in careers in coding?
Bianca: Mentorship is powerful. Seek out individuals who are doing the things you want to do. They can act as sounding boards and help support and motivate you.
Lastly, what gets you up in the morning? Why do you do what you do?
Peta:It comes down to empathy. Initiatives like Code Next and Tech Exchange are near and dear to my heart. I am an engineer. I am where I am today because I was exposed to tech at an early age. I come from the same communities that we are trying to uplift.
Bianca: For me, it’s engaging with and supporting our students. I'm continually inspired and amazed by the level of talent, energy and enthusiasm our Tech Exchange students bring to the program and to Google. It's an honor to run a program that’s preparing the next generation of Black and Latinx technologists.
April: Any time I get to see the direct impact of our programs, it motivates me to keep pushing and reassures me that all of this hard work is so worth it. In a lot of ways, I relate to our students and their educational experience, so it keeps me grounded in the work. I went to school with a lot of friends and family who hit barriers in their career paths, and being able to remove some of those barriers for a whole new generation of students will always keep me energized.
For Kristen Rainey, a carrot is more than a vegetable. It’s the opportunity to cook “from root to stem” and make anything from salads and juice to ice cream and candy. Cooking this way helps combat food waste, an issue that affects everyone—particularly the 800 million people who suffer from hunger each year.
One third of all food produced for human consumption, or about 1.3 billion pounds of food, is wasted every year. Plus, wasted food emits potent greenhouse gases when it decomposes. “The situation is a lose-lose-lose,” Kristen says. “When you consider all of the resources that went into making the food that’s ultimately wasted, it becomes clear that we have a problem.”
Kristen, a Procurement & Resource Utilization Manager based in Google’s Portland office, leads strategy to reduce food waste, water and energy in company kitchens and cafes. When it comes to food, they take a “circular economy” approach, meaning that they prioritize reusing ingredients and raw materials rather than buying new ones and tossing leftovers in the trash.
Using these strategies, Google has prevented six million pounds of food waste since 2014. Here are four strategies that made that happen.
1. Use technology to cut back on waste.
Google’s offices partner with LeanPath in 189 cafes in 26 different countries. The system features a camera that takes pictures of the food waste items, a scale that weighs it and a tablet for a team member to enter additional information about the item.
This info then gets uploaded to the cloud, and those numbers allow Google to track and gain insights about food waste. Using this data, chefs are able to make adjustments in the kitchen, such as scaling back the purchasing of ingredients or teaching team members how to trim vegetables in order to utilize a greater percentage of the product.
2. Consider the ingredients.
When thinking of ingredients, Google’s chefs make sustainability a priority. For example, many dishes can be made with imperfect-looking produce, meaning fruits and vegetables that might look misshapen or have slight discolorations, but are still just as delicious. They are also focused on finding innovative suppliers like CoffeeCherry, which creates flour from coffee bean byproduct, or Toast, beer brewed with leftover bread.
Chefs at Google also consider using the entire vegetable, from root to stem, and an entire animal when cooking meat. Whether it’s using the skin of a sweet potato or carrot tops in a vegetable dish or using turkey neck and giblets for a stock or gravy, it’s easy to utilize food that otherwise would have ended up in a landfill.
3. Get creative in the kitchen.
Inevitably, some food is going to be left over, but that doesn’t mean it’s hitting the trash. Scott Giambastiani, Google’s food program manager based in Sunnyvale, California, says chefs in Google kitchens have come up with inventive solutions to repurpose food. They've used trimmings from leafy greens to make smoothies and the stems from those greens and root vegetables to make sauces like pesto and chimichurri. “All of these practices not only reduce food waste but they also enhance the nutritional value of the final dish,” Scott says.
Google chefs also cook in small batches as they go, looking at crowd sizes and estimating how much to cook rather than preparing a large quantity at once. This practice, combined with careful planning of how many ingredients to purchase, prevents a good deal of food waste.
4. Don’t just toss waste in the garbage.
If leftovers can’t be repurposed into new dishes, that doesn’t mean they always end up in a landfill. Google cafes make it a point to donate leftovers to local shelters and food banks, and compost whenever possible. They’re also focused on ways to stop food waste before it starts, by encouraging Googlers to be mindful of how much food they put on their plates—and reminding them they can always go back for seconds.
Editor’s Note: Do you ever feel like a fish out of water? Try being a tech novice and talking to an engineer at a place like Google. Ask a Techspert is a new series on the Keyword asking Googler experts to explain complicated technology for the rest of us. This isn’t meant to be comprehensive, but just enough to make you sound smart at a dinner party.
Growing up, I was taught to say “Schottenfels residence” when answering the phone. It was the polite way of doing things. When the phone rang, it was usually family, friends and, yes, the occasional telemarketer on the other side of the line. Then things changed. Personal calls moved to mobile phones, and the landline became the domain of robocalls. My cell was a sanctuary, free of the pesky automated dialers that plague the landlines of yore. Until recently.
Today, it feels like the only phone calls I get are spam calls. And I know I’m not alone. According to a recent Google survey, half of respondents received at least one spam call per day, and one third received two or more per day.
And people are answering those calls. More than one third of respondents worry that a call from an unknown number is a call about a loved one, and another third think it could be a call from a potential loved one, so they pick up. And almost everyone agrees: Spam calls are the worst. In fact, 75 percent of those surveyed think spam calls are more annoying than spam texts or emails.
So what’s the deal with spam calls? And how can we stop them from happening? For the latest edition of Ask a Techspert, I spoke to Paul Dunlop, the product manager for the Google Phone App, to better understand why, all of the sudden, spam calls are happening so frequently, and what tools, like Pixel’s Call Screen feature, you can use to avoid the headache.
Why spam calls are more common lately
According to Paul, voice-over IP (VoIP) is the culprit. These are phone calls made using the web instead of a traditional telephone line, and today they're cheaper and easier than ever to use. “Using VoIP technology, spammers place phone calls over the Internet and imitate a different phone number,” Paul says. “It used to be that they had a fixed number, and you could block that number. Now with VoIP, spammers have the ability to imitate any phone number.” Paul says this became possible when companies, which wanted to call customers from call centers, made it so one general 1-800 number for a business showed up on caller IDs. So what started as a common-sense solution ended up becoming an easy loophole for spammers.
This is called spoofing, and there’s nothing in phone systems—the infrastructure of telephones—that can prevent spam callers from imitating numbers. “You can actually be spammed by your own phone number,” Paul says. “But the most common is neighborhood spam, using your area code and the first three digits of your phone number, which increases the likelihood you’ll answer.”
How Pixel can help you avoid picking up spam calls
Enter Call Screen, a feature on Pixel phones that helps protect you from spam calls by giving you more information before you decide to answer. Before you have to pick up, Call Screen asks the caller to say why they’re calling and, with the help of the Google Assistant, translates the message into text so you can decide whether or not to answer. All of this happens “on device,” meaning it protects your privacy while it makes sure you get the message as fast as possible.
“Call Screen gives you that bit of protection from those spam calls, and helps you make sure you don’t miss those really important calls,” Paul explains. “It’s only one piece of the puzzle though.”
The future of fighting spam calls
But what about the problem of spam calls at large? Paul and other industry techsperts look to technology called STIR/SHAKEN to address that spoof phone number technology, which the FTC is in the process of approving. And, yes, they are acronyms: STIR for “Secure Telephone Identity Revisited” and SHAKEN for “Signature-based Handling of Asserted information using toKENs.”
This new technology allows cell phone networks to authenticate calls by validating that the number associated with each phone call is legitimate. You can then know that the caller is a real person using a real phone number.
According to our survey respondents, spam calls are the worst type of call you can get. With new advances in technology, however, the number two most annoying group of callers—exes —might just take the top spot.
Editor’s Note: Do you ever feel like a fish out of water? Try being a tech novice and talking to an engineer at a place like Google. Ask a Techspert is a new series on the Keyword asking Googler experts to explain complicated technology for the rest of us. This isn’t meant to be comprehensive, but just enough to make you sound smart at a dinner party.
Quantum computing sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie. But it’s real, and scientists and engineers are working to make it a practical reality. Google engineers are creating chips the size of a quarter that could revolutionize the computers of tomorrow. But what is quantum computing, exactly?
The Keyword’s very first Techspert is Marissa Giustina, a research scientist and quantum electronics engineer in our Santa Barbara office. We asked her to explain how this emerging technology actually works.
What do we need to know about conventional computers when we think about quantum computers?
At a first glance, “information” seems like an abstract concept. Sure, information can be stored by writing and drawing—humans figured that out a long time ago. Still, there doesn’t seem to be anything physically tangible about the process of thinking.
Enter the personal computer. It’s a machine—a purely physical object—that manipulates information. So how does it do that, if it’s a physical machine and information is abstract? Well, information is actually physical. Computers store and process rich, detailed information by breaking it down. At a low level, a computer represents information as a series of “bits.” Each bit can take a value of either  or , and physically, these bits are tiny electrical switches that can be either open  or closed . Emails, photos and videos on YouTube are all represented by long sequences of bits—long rows of tiny electrical switches inside a computer.
The computer “computes” by manipulating those bits, like changing between  and  (opening or closing a switch), or checking whether two bits have equal or opposite values and setting another bit accordingly. These bit-level manipulations are the basis of even the fanciest computer programs.
Ones and zeros, like "The Matrix." Got it. So then what is a quantum computer?
A quantum computer is a machine that stores and manipulates information as quantum bits, or “qubits,” instead of the “classical” bits we were talking about before. Quantum bits are good at storing and manipulating a different kind of information than classical bits, since they are governed by rules of quantum mechanics—the same rules that govern the behavior of atoms and molecules.
What’s the difference between a bit and a qubit?
This is where it gets more complicated. Remember that a classical bit is just a switch: it has only two possible configurations: [open] or [closed]. A qubit’s configuration has a lot more possibilities. Physicists often think of a qubit like a little globe, with  at the north pole and  at the south pole, and the qubit’s configuration is represented by a point on the globe. In manipulating the qubit, we can send any point on the globe to any other point on the globe.
At first, it sounds like a qubit can hold way more information than a regular bit. But there’s a catch: the “rules” of quantum mechanics restrict what kinds of information we can get out of a qubit. If we want to know the configuration of a classical bit, we just look at it, and we see that the switch is either open  or closed . If we want to know the configuration of a qubit, we measure it, but the only possible measurement outcomes are  (north pole) or  (south pole). A qubit that was situated on the equator will measure as  50 percent of the time and  the other 50 percent of the time. That means we have to repeat measurements many times in order to learn about a qubit’s actual configuration.
So if qubits are so tricky to measure, how can you build a quantum computer?
Well, you’re right—it’s complicated! My main focus at Google, together with my teammates, is to figure out how to build a quantum computer and how we can use it. Years of research have given us a pretty good idea of how to build and control a few quantum bits, but the process of scaling up to a full quantum processor is not just “copy-paste.” We’re also continuing to investigate possible uses of quantum computers, where there’s a lot that's unknown. It’s wrong to think of a quantum computer as a more powerful version of your regular computer. Instead, each is a machine that’s good at certain—and different—kinds of tasks. If you’re going to your local grocery store, you’d take a car or walk, but you wouldn’t take a plane or a spaceship.
What does a quantum computer look like?
In our hardware at Google, the qubits are resonant electrical circuits made of patterned aluminum on a silicon chip. In our qubits, electricity sloshes around the circuit at a lower or higher energy to encode the quantum version of  and . We use aluminum because at very low temperatures aluminum becomes superconducting, which means it experiences no electrical loss. By “very low temperatures” I mean that we operate our quantum processors in a special refrigerator called a cryostat, which cools the chips to below 50 millikelvin—significantly colder than outer space!
When you see pictures of “a quantum computer,” usually you notice the cryostat—which is bigger than a person. But that’s just the shell, providing the proper environment for the processor to function. The quantum processor itself is a silicon chip installed in the cryostat, and is closer to the size of a coin. The qubits are small, roughly 0.1 mm across, but not that small—you can see them with the naked eye (though it’s easier with a magnifying glass or microscope).
Do you know what we would use a quantum computer for?
As I mentioned, a quantum computer is a novel kind of computing machine—not a speedier or beefier version of your laptop. However, quantum computers, with their fundamentally different way of encoding and manipulating information, promise to be good at some problems that would choke regular computers. One example is the simulation of chemical reactions.
Suppose a chemist wants to develop a material—for example a better fertilizer, an anti-corrosion coating, or an efficient solar cell. Even if the chemist knows the structure of a new molecule they’re developing, they won’t know how that molecule behaves in the real world until they make it and test it. This makes materials research laborious and expensive. It would be much more efficient if researchers could simulate the behavior of a new molecule before synthesizing it in the lab. However, every atom in a molecule is affected by every other atom, which means that each time you add an atom to a molecule, there are twice as many parameters to include in the simulation. As a result, chemistry simulation becomes impossible for a classical computer, even for relatively small molecules. The quantum computer, in contrast, is based in the same physics that governs the molecule’s behavior. I’m optimistic that quantum computers could change the way we do research on materials.
Wow, that’s exciting. Where can I learn more about this?
I’m so glad you asked! My teammates and I are working on a series of videos to explain the basics of our work in more detail—you can find them below.
As we head into the week of Next ‘18, we’re thrilled to kick things off by welcoming thousands of our Google Cloud partners at our annual Partner Summit.
Whether businesses are moving to the cloud to speed up innovation, discover important insights from their data, or transform the way they work, they often need help. That's where our thousands of Google Cloud partners come in, offering everything from migration support and solutions built on our platform to value-added services. They’re an indispensable part of our mission to bring the cloud to more businesses.
As we approach our third annual Next conference, we’ve seen amazing progress in our partner ecosystem. Since the start of 2017, we’ve increased the number of technology partners by 10x and we’ve more than doubled our team supporting these partners. Channel partners are also an integral part of our go-to-market strategy, and we’re delighted with the joint success we’re achieving. In the last year we’ve signed new and expanded partnerships with Accenture, Deloitte, KPMG and many, many more. These partnerships are already having a positive impact on our customers, who can use Google Cloud through their existing partner relationships and generally get the benefits of cloud more easily.
Today, we’re more focused on partners than ever. We think about how to involve our partners on every deal and in every customer engagement. At Partner Summit, we’re celebrating the important work our partners do on behalf of our customers, sharing news and updates from across our partner ecosystem, and looking ahead at our shared opportunity to support customers on their journey to the cloud. Here’s a look at some of today’s announcements:
Expanding Google Cloud’s solutions for SaaS partners
SaaS has become the preferred method for delivering enterprise applications worldwide, and we’re making Google Cloud an even better platform for our SaaS partners. Today, we’re rolling out a new set of programs to help our partners bring SaaS applications to their customers. These include:
A co-selling program that matches GCP sales experts with our SaaS partners to help deliver GCP-run SaaS solutions to customers.
A new program that connects Google’s Customer Reliability Engineering (CRE) team with our SaaS partners to keep their products up and running on Google Cloud.
A new way for partners to receive Marketing Development Funds (MDFs) from Google based on how much use of GCP they drive with their SaaS products.
A robust online community for SaaS partners to network with each other, receive updates from Google Cloud, and share best practices with other SaaS community members.
We’re already working with top SaaS partners like Salesforce, Box, MongoDB, Zenoss, Elastic, RedisLabs, JFrog, BetterCloud, DialPad, and many more—learn more about our new SaaS initiative.
Unveiling new technology integrations with Google Cloud
Our ecosystem of partners provides the foundation upon which many of our customers build their businesses. Today, we’re announcing both new and expanded integrations that will bring more options to our cloud customers:
New SAP solutions. We’re collaborating with Deloitte to help SAP customers extend their cloud strategies into more use cases. Deloitte will offer a full suite of solutions for running SAP applications on GCP, including the Deloitte Invoice Management Solution, which automates invoice processing in the SAP system landscape, and the Deloitte Visual Inspection Solution, which automates the visual inspection process and accelerates tasks like inventory restocking. Find out more about this Deloitte partnership.
Updates to our work with Cisco. We’ll be announcing further updates to our partnership with Cisco during the course of Next ‘18, including exciting news in the collaboration and AI spaces, as well as a new developer challenge in partnership with Cisco to drive innovation on hybrid solutions across the Cisco Container Platform and GCP. Stay tuned for more on these initiatives.
New DLT solutions. Customers can now explore ways they might use distributed ledger technology (DLT) frameworks on GCP with launch partners including Digital Asset and BlockApps, and try open-source integrations for Hyperledger Fabric and Ethereum later this year in our GCP Marketplace. Learn more at Next ’18 at our DLT Partnerships session.
New resource for high-performance cloud help. In collaboration with Intel and Appsbroker, we’re rolling out a new center of excellence that offers resources, tips and best practices to help customers migrate all kinds of high-performance cloud computing workloads onto GCP, using tailored, customer-specific guidance. You can meet the team behind the Extreme Cloud Center of Excellence at the Intel booth at Next ’18 in San Francisco, or learn more here.
New NetApp Cloud Volumes for GCP. One challenge that companies face in moving workloads to the cloud is access to high-performance, scalable, and shared file-systems that many applications need. Last week, NetApp announced new capabilities designed to help customers access these systems, including a new SMB protocol service to enable Windows and UNIX-based applications to be built and deployed on GCP, and expanded availability of NetApp Cloud Volumes for GCP, so the service will be available to even more customers.
New VMware plug-in. We’ve announced a new plug-in for VMware vRealize Orchestrator so that customers can use GCP alongside their on-premise VMware environment. This new plug-in lets users create vRealize Automation blueprints, which allow for end-user self-service catalogs, initiating Day 2 operations on Compute Engine VMs, reclaiming provisioned resources and more. And it lets customers keep their existing governance and approval processes, making consumption of cloud resources more secure and trackable. You can read more on the GCP blog.
Increasing specializations to connect partners and customers
Many customers need partners with a great deal of experience in a particular area to help them build advanced solutions for their businesses. To help customers identify the right partner, we offer Specializations, a designation that recognizes partners with deep technical expertise and proven customer success in a particular area.
Now, we’ve designated 19 new partners in five new specialization areas, expanding our program to nine total specializations. Partners who have earned a Specialization have multiple individuals on staff with the highest level of certification, demonstrated and documented customer success stories, and have passed a rigorous capability assessment from experts on our Professional Services team.
These new specialization areas and designated partners are:
Find out more about the Specializationprogram.
Announcing the winners of our 2017 Partner Awards
Our 2017 Partner Awards recognize partners who really dedicated themselves to creating industry-leading solutions and strong customer experiences with Google Cloud. Join us in congratulating the winners!
We can’t think of a better way to kick off Next ‘18 than celebrating the partners that help so many of our customers transform their businesses. We look forward to welcoming many new partners into our network in 2018, and we can’t wait to see what new ideas and solutions emerge this year. To learn more about our program, find a partner, or become one, visit our partner page.
I’ve been to a few “Take Your Child to Work” days at Google, but this year, the Keyword team asked me to write about it. I’m going to tell you about Google NYC from the perspective of a nine-year old, fourth grade kid. I like going to “Take Your Child to Work” day because everyone is so friendly and they always have really interesting things that kids like to do, such as meditation, science, coding, and more.
First, let me tell you about the micro kitchens where you can get a snack, a drink, or do some work. Free snacks are definitely a woop woop! The food is kid-friendly: in one micro kitchen there was frozen yogurt. It also had gummies, fruit and nut bars, yogurt, fruit salad, and even candy, but it’s hard to find because it’s in jars that are high up on a shelf.
A great part of “Take your Child to Work Day” are the sessions we are invited to, and I went to three. The first was about how we see color, and some kids got to try on crazy goggles that turned their vision upside down, switched it left and right, let them see like a bug sees, and there was even one set of goggles that showed the view from above through a camera on her back! The kids tried giving each other high fives and passing a ball around while wearing the goggles, and it was pretty funny.
I also did a class where we tried out AR (Augmented Reality) in the Chelsea Market building. We saw dinosaurs, volcanoes and tornadoes and things inside your body like bones using phones on selfie sticks. After that my mom and I explored the Google offices in Chelsea Market and I climbed the rock wall.
In the afternoon we went to a music meditation class. The instructor taught the six people in class how to meditate with sound and music. At the end we all put a big Tibetan singing bowl on our heads and the instructor banged it lightly with a stick. It felt relaxing as the vibration went through my body. We all had a chance to play the instructor’s musical instruments.
I also got to sit where my mom works every day and meet the people she works with. I did a photo tour with her co-worker Camille, and we took photos of all the cool things we walked by. On the 14th floor Camille and I met a father and son playing foosball. Probably two out of every ten people bring their dogs to work, which most kids like a lot. I saw a little Harry Potter section that had a Hogwarts puzzle, a wizard hat, and a few Harry Potter pillows that looked like spell books, and owls. I have never read Harry Potter, I know such a crime! A fourth grader who has not read Harry Potter! But I still liked seeing it at Google.
I heard that “Take Your Child to Work Day” in Mountain View was pretty cool, too. A few kids were interviewed on camera about what it was like, and here’s what they had to say:
I really like how friendly everyone is at Google, they are all so kind. I’m not sure what I want to do when I grow up, but I know I would like to work at a place like Google.
Editor’s Note: When you use a Google product, you might not realize that there’s an entire team of people who have carefully designed everything from the icons you see to the button that you click. In our latest installment of the She Word—a Keyword series all about dynamic and creative women at Google—we talked to Catherine Courage, Vice President of User Experience (UX) who “puts herself in other people’s shoes” to design the best possible products for them.
How do you explain your job at a dinner party?
I lead a global user experience (UX) team comprised of designers, researchers, writers, and engineers. The role of UX is to listen to our users, and then design experiences that meet their needs. We design products for publishers and advertisers to grow their businesses, like local services, which helps small businesses connect with customers. We’re also behind the apps that you use to shop or book flights, like Google Trips.
How did you get into UX?
I entered UX through research—my job was to observe how people use a product, and figure out how the design of the product can better serve their needs. I focused on putting myself in other people’s shoes, and I carry that focus to my current job too.
What’s something your team is working on that you’re excited about?
We’re doing a lot of great work with machine learning. For example, AdSense (Google’s product that lets website owners earn money by showing ads), uses machine learning to learn about a site’s content and then suggest the best places to show ads that aren’t annoying and are more likely to be relevant.
How has the role of designers changed over the past decade?
A decade ago, design was associated primarily with beauty. But today it’s seen as a critical part of a successful business. Companies realize they need to attract and retain loyal users—people won’t stick around and use a poorly-designed site or app. These days, an established design team is as standard as a product management or engineering team. We’re seeing more founders, CEOs, or top executives with backgrounds in design.
What do you want to get better at?
I’d like to bring more empathy to my leadership style. When you manage a global team of over 500, it’s easy to focus on the operations of the machine and lose sight of the amazing people who make it work. It’s important to spend time celebrating our achievements (before we go on to the next thing). Team wellness is a big priority, and part of wellness is pausing to acknowledge the people who make us successful.
Have you read or watched anything remarkable lately?
I was lucky to see Michelle Obama speak recently about how she’s committed to building a bench of future leaders. I was struck by her humility and authenticity—she makes you feel like she’s a close girlfriend. It was fun hearing her poke fun at Barack, reminding us that he’s a human being like the rest of us, imperfections and all.
What do you like to do during your free time?
I love the outdoors and physical activity, and when I do more of those things, I’m better at my job. It allows me to clear my head and decompress. I often solve some of my toughest problems when I am out for a run or a ride. This year, I’m training to run the New York City marathon!
What’s one habit that makes you successful?
I listen, ask a lot of questions, and try not to make assumptions. I’m a strong believer in asking for help (even today as a senior executive). Often people see this as a weakness, but I see it as the reverse. People are flattered when you ask for their advice and perspective.
What advice do you have for women starting out in their careers?
Embrace fear, rather than letting it hold you back. I love the quote “Growth and comfort do not coexist.” The twinge of doubt is often a sign that you’re pushing to the next level. The potential rewards of taking a chance are tremendous, and far more significant than the fear and risk you may be feeling.
Who has been a strong female influence in your life?
My mother–who completed her PhD while raising three children—and is one of four sisters, so I’ve been surrounded by female leaders since birth. I grew up believing I could do anything I wanted!